Tofino-Ucluelet junction. (Westerly file photo)

Unscheduled road closure leaves Tofino-Ucluelet commuters in the lurch

Blasting mishap causes lengthy delay on Hwy. 4 at Kennedy Hill construction site

The West Coast’s tourist season started off with a bang last week, unfortunately that bang shut down the only highway in and out of town for several hours.

Provincial travel restrictions were lifted on June 15 sending tourists towards the Tofino-Ucluelet region along Hwy. 4, which is currently under construction due to a $31 million Kennedy Hill Safety Improvement project.

The road was scheduled to be closed in both directions from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then again from 4-5 p.m. as rock blasting work was done, but a blasting mishap resulted in the afternoon closure running from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“The Kennedy Hill Safety Improvement project is particularly challenging due to variable rock. Day-time closures have been in place since last year to allow crews to safely undertake some of the most complex blasting on this project,” a ministry of transportation and infrastructure spokesperson told the Westerly News via email. “From time to time, unexpected events do occur, and this was the case Tuesday. We know how frustrating this can be for people travelling.”

The spokesperson explained that a large boulder got hung up after a blast and needed to be removed before vehicles could pass safely underneath.

“As well, there were also some very large boulders on the road from the initial blast which could not be taken care of by the crew until the boulder above was safely removed,” they said.

There is no cell service in the area so commuters were unable to contact those waiting for them on either side, and DriveBC was never updated to advise the road was closed.

“In this case, DriveBC was not updated as the incident was occurring because it took place during a scheduled road closure and workers were optimistic that the situation would not extend beyond the planned closure window,” the spokesperson said. “Unfortunately, it took longer than expected to manage the rock and in retrospect we recognize that Drive BC should have been updated. In the future we will work to update DriveBC to ensure people have the information they need.”

They added that decisions to build cell towers in areas currently without service are made by private sector companies.

“Government regularly reaches out to cellular service providers to express the need to improve cell service in every part of B.C. New technology is developed all the time so areas where previously there were challenges, cellular or Wi Fi builds may now be possible because of emerging technology,” they said.

The Kennedy Hill Safety Improvement project began in 2018 and was initially expected to be complete in the summer of 2020, however blasting accidents and the COVID-19 pandemic brought delays and there is currently no timeline for the work to be finished.

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